Serves 4-6

I first came across this seasonal meal about 15 years ago in a farmhouse restaurant, up a windy hill close to Rosas, north of Barcelona where the now-famous restaurant El Bulli is. First we were dressed in bibs, then sections of curved gutter-like tiles arrived, filled with burnt, leek-like onions, along with pots of romesco sauce. Specialist greengrocers such as Tony Booth in Borough Market, and Philip Britten at Solstice (see Food Notes, page 45), have calcots. The vegetable has a laborious upbringing lasting more than a year.

The seeds are planted in September, and the seedlings transplanted in January, and allowed to grow until late June or early July. Then they're uprooted and stored until they've sprouted, which they do in August or September. They're then trimmed and replanted, with earth covering the stalks to keep them white. They're harvested again at this time of year, and eaten with gusto as calcotada, cooked as below. I have cooked calcots at home, and have also used those giant spring onions, which work pretty well. In Spain the onions are cooked over a charcoal barbecue for 8-10 minutes until the skins are black, but you can use a regular grill.

24-30 calcots, or large spring onions, washed

for the romesco sauce
125ml olive oil
2tbsp flaked almonds
1 red pepper, halved, seeded and roughly chopped
A good pinch of sweet pimenton
3 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
2 ripe tomatoes, skinned, seeded and roughly chopped
1tbsp red wine vinegar
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Heat the oil in a heavy pan and cook the sauce ingredients on a medium heat for 3-4 minutes with a lid on, stirring every so often. Drain off most of the oil into a jug and coarsely blend the solids in a food processor, trickling the oil back in a little at a time. Remove and leave to cool.

For the onions, heat a grill, barbecue or charcoal grill and cook for about 5-6 minutes on each side, or until they are black. It's best to eat them just after they're cooked, wearing a bib or napkin. Remove the black skin with your fingers, and dip the soft white onion into the sauce. Oh, and have some finger bowls ready.

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